April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Prosecutors fight murder convict’s request to hunt

ELYRIA — Prosecutors filed court documents Tuesday opposing a request from a Grafton man convicted of murder who now wants to be allowed to use guns to hunt deer, rabbits, pheasants and squirrels.

Kevin Bernaciak, who spent 18 years in prison after being convicted of murder in Coshocton County, and other felons are prohibited by law from owning, using or holding firearms. A judge can lift that ban, Kenneth Lieux, Bernaciak’s attorney, has said.

But Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Richard Gronsky argued that Bernaciak should continue to be barred from owning guns, especially since he shot a man during a 1986 hunting trip.

“In that the underlying crime of violence of murder involved the shooting of a shotgun point blank into the back of the victim while at a ‘hunting’ retreat, (Bernaciak’s) stated reason to possess and use firearms to ‘hunt’ animals does not outweigh the public safety concern of the state of Ohio that (Bernaciak) murdered his last hunting companion by shooting him point-blank in the back,” Gronsky wrote.

According to court documents from Coshocton County, Bernaciak and Anthony Portale, the man he shot, and two others were on a hunting trip and staying at a mobile home Bernaciak owned.

The men went out drinking the night of the shooting, and after the bars closed, the group tried to get some women they had met to come back to the mobile home to continue drinking. While at the bar, and later in the car, the documents said, Portale allegedly physically assaulted several people.

When the group finally made it back to the trailer, Bernaciak ended up shooting Portale in the back. According to prosecutors, Bernaciak had to load the shotgun with a deer slug before shooting Portale.

But Bernaciak’s trial attorney argued that an out-of-control Portale was the first to grab a gun that night and only put it down after Bernaciak got his own shotgun. Bernaciak was walking Portale out of the trailer when the gun accidentally discharged, the trial attorney said during opening statements in the 1987 trial.

After the shooting, Bernaciak went to a phone and called police. He later told a deputy he led to the scene that, “I shot the (expletive),” when asked what had happened.

Lieux has previously said his client has led a law-abiding life since his release from prison in 2001. Bernaciak was on parole until 2006.

Although Gronsky didn’t dispute that Bernaciak has a clean record since his release, he noted that Bernaciak had several disciplinary infractions, including for ingesting opiates — Bernaciak claimed the positive drug test was caused by eating poppy-seed crackers — while incarcerated.

Gronsky also wrote that Bernaciak can hunt legally using long bows, crossbows and air rifles.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.